Andrea Wilson Woods is a writer who loves to tell stories, and a patient advocate who founded the nonprofit Blue Faery: The Adrienne Wilson Liver Cancer Association. Andrea is the CEO and co-founder of Cancer University, a for-profit, social-benefit, digital health company. With Cancer U, Andrea synergizes her talents of coaching, writing, teaching, and advocacy. Andrea obtained her master’s degree in writing from the University of Southern California; her nonfiction writing has won national awards. Her bestselling and award-winning book, Better Off Bald: A Life in 147 Days, is a medical memoir about raising and losing her sister to cancer.
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Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Andrea Wilson Woods: When I was 22 years old, I gained custody of my then eight-year-old sister Adrienne. I raised Adrienne all through my twenties until one month after her 15th birthday she was diagnosed with stage IV liver cancer. Her cancer journey only lasted 147 days. Losing Adrienne has been the biggest loss in my life. I have channeled my grief into worthy ventures. In 2002, I founded a national nonprofit dedicated to primary liver cancer. Three years ago, I co-founded a health tech startup for all cancer patients and caregivers.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Andrea Wilson Woods: In the early days with my nonprofit, I felt like giving up many times. I didn’t know what I was doing. I couldn’t afford to work full-time at my charity. There was a lot of internal negative energy. I learned the hard way why it’s often best not to start businesses with friends. (Remember: A charity is still a business and it needs to be profitable.) I didn’t fire people quickly enough because I didn’t realize you could fire volunteers. But every time I felt like giving up, I would look at a photo of my sister for inspiration. Often, my phone would ring and the person on the line was a newly diagnosed cancer patient seeking guidance. I always received signs that I needed to keep going no matter what obstacles I faced.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. What’s the worst advice you received?
Andrea Wilson Woods: Currently, I’m raising a seed round of funding for my bootstrapped startup. Too often, well-meaning investors say, “Raise money from family and friends!” It’s infuriating. I don’t have friends or family with that kind of money. During a webinar, my co-founder heard an investor say that if you can’t raise money from family and friends, your idea isn’t good enough. That’s B.S. A better way to say it with the same meaning would be, “Do you have any family or friends who would invest in you and your company at this time?” There’s a big difference between a definitive statement and asking a question to better understand the person’s situation.
Is there a particular podcast you listened to, or business thought leader that you find helpful while maneuvering this pandemic?
Andrea Wilson Woods: I’m a podcast junkie. Aside from my own podcast Cancer U Thrivers, I listen to Business Wars, The Great Fail, Secret Sauce, How I Built This, Her CEO Journey, Bright Spots in Healthcare, and the NFX Podcast. And those are only the business ones! I also like podcasts about true crime, history, celebrities, and inspiring stories.
What is most important to your organization—mission, vision, or values?
Andrea Wilson Woods: I don’t think one should be more important than the other; however, they must align.
Cancer U’s mission is to educate, empower, and engage cancer patients and caregivers to become advocates for their healthcare to improve outcomes, reduce stress, and lower costs.
Our values align with our mission. We call them the seven Es: Empowerment, Education, Engagement, Enthusiasm, Ease of Use/Understanding, Excellence, and Expertise.
Our vision is to make Cancer U available worldwide to every cancer patient and caregiver at the moment of diagnosis.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Andrea Wilson Woods: I’m resourceful, creative, and persistent. To quote Calvin Coolidge, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.”
Being a CEO of the company, do you think that your personal brand reflects your company’s values?
Andrea Wilson Woods: In today’s world, your personal brand reflects on your company if you’re active on any type of social media platform. One wrong Tweet and your business could be ruined forever. I know many CEOs who are not active on social media because they want to protect their company.
How would you define “leadership”?
Andrea Wilson Woods: My father always said, “Manage projects. Lead people.” I agree with him. But some people need more touch points so it’s important to set expectations and boundaries. A board member thought I was ignoring her when I didn’t answer her emails right away but I had failed to convey my email strategy. To remain productive, I rarely answer emails in the morning and if it’s not urgent, I may not answer for a day. After I explained it’s a productivity issue for me, she realized it wasn’t personal at all.
What would you say is the main difference between starting a business at the time you started yours and starting the business in today’s age?
Andrea Wilson Woods: Two words: social media.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Andrea Wilson Woods: A college professor told me, “Don’t confuse who you are with what you do.” That’s hard for most people, especially if you’re a driven, ambitious, Type-A personality, especially if you’re an American.
Now, I understand the advice. I’ve done many things in my life. Over 100 jobs. 18 careers. 10 industries. But they don’t define or change who I am. I am a sister, daughter, lover, friend, and storyteller.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Andrea Wilson Woods for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Andrea Wilson Woods or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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